Boston, MA: NHL bloodlines run deep in the greater Boston area. The most well-known intertwined royal family trees of hockey is the Hayes-Fitzgerald-Tkachuk clan originating in Charlestown, MA. Other honorable mentions include the Veseys, Yandles, Eichels, and Coyles. However, the most Bostonian of hockey families has grown in our backyard since the 1980’s.
Donato’s Defecting to Dedham:
Edward Paul “Ted” Donato was originally born in Boston proper, but his family later moved to the suburb of Dedham. There, he attended and played for all-boys Catholic Memorial prep school in nearby West Roxbury. Donato impressed enough to attend Harvard on a hockey scholarship. The summer before lacing up his skates for the Crimson, the hometown Boston Bruins selected Donato 98th overall in the 1987 entry draft.
After playing all four years with Harvard, Donato immediately made the jump to the NHL. In his inaugural season, Donato scored his first goal despite suiting up for only 10 games. He dressed for each game of the following three seasons, even the shortened 47-game lockout year (1994-95).
Donato played wing with the Bruins until the 1998-99 season, in which the Islanders acquired him in trade. Donato bounced between several NHL and AHL teams until the 2003-04 season where he signed with the Bruins once more. As Donato’s professional hockey career waned, he helped mentor a young, 18-year-old rookie drafted that past summer. “His dad was so nice to me from training camp on,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I felt pretty lucky to have great veterans like I did.” via MassLive.
Bergeron spent considerable amounts of time at the Donato household in Scituate, MA, unaware another Bruin was percolating nearby.
Like Father, Like Son:
Young Patrice Bergeron could not have imagined the seven-year-old boy who occasionally skated with his father after practice would have his name called by the Bruins. Nevertheless, Ted’s son Ryan Donato eclipsed his father, selected second round and 56th overall out of the Dexter all-boys prep school. The similarities between father and son don’t end there: Ryan committed to play hockey at Harvard University.
Both were also selected to the highest honor outside of the Hockey Hall of Fame or a Stanley Cup championship: representing Team USA in the Winter Olympics–1992 for Ted, 2018 for Ryan. Donato the younger wasn’t born when his father played in the Olympics, but had a world-class experience of his own to share.
On his selection to Team USA, Ryan said: “I got the call from the late Jim Johansson… He couldn’t be more excited to make that phone call. Getting that phone call, I wanted to tell a million people but I wasn’t allowed. I could only tell my parents. When I got that experience to share that with my parents, it was a life-changing experience…really a blessing.”
Long before Ryan skated for the Harvard Crimson, his father Ted transitioned smoothly from the professional sphere back to collegiate hockey. At the conclusion of his final professional season in 2004, Ted was selected as the new bench boss for the Crimson.
By the time Ryan reported to the Bright-Landry Hockey Center as a freshman, Ted had coached Harvard Men’s Hockey for 11 seasons.
The father-son dynamic didn’t take long to sort out once the puck dropped. “He’s a coach at the rink, father at home.” Ryan admitted, “[Playing for his father] was tough. It was harder at the beginning…at school, but once we figured out that balance it was pretty easy.” Since then, Ted has largely taken a hands-off approach to his son’s NHL career. “He’s let me forge my own path a lot. Obviously it’s tough [to be completely hands-off], we’ve done a lot of the same things so I look to him if I ever need advice. It’s a tough game. It’s a business up here at the NHL and you gotta perform at the end of the day, and that’s one of the biggest things he’s told me.”
Continuing the Legacy:
When I interviewed Donato in Buffalo, we were somewhat removed from the youngster’s inaugural game at the TD Garden. In one of the most iconic moments of the previous season, we all watched as Donato entered the Columbus offensive zone, with Torey Krug trailing. Though we barely heard the exchange, Krug called for the puck by yelling “three!” as he crossed the blue line.
NHL.com via YouTube
Donato trusted the direction of a veteran player, and passed to Krug. Almost immediately, Krug returned the puck, but the play had the desired effect: Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo came unglued from the post, opening the net up for business. Donato’s one-timed blast off the Krug return feed hit the back of the net.
A new chapter of the Donato legacy was born.
Following that mid-march Night, Donato skated in 11 more contests for the Bruins in the 2017-18 season. Entering training camp and the Prospects Challenge in Buffalo, Donato’s NHL experience helped his preparation immensely. “Every guy has things they want to use to help their offense and that’s something I really look forward to. I knew I’ve had some NHL experience, I wanted to carry that and hopefully [use that to] benefit some of the guys on the team as well.”
Donato describes himself as a guy that “wants to help in any way. [A player who] plays all three positions. So whatever vacancy is available in any part of the lineup, I can fill that.” Donato made good on this statement by playing a well-rounded, complete game in Buffalo during the Prospects Challenge slotting in as wing or center.
Ryan Donato’s Offseason and Beyond:
Picking the Harvard man’s brain, I asked him to compare and contrast the play at the Prospects Challenge versus the NHL or NCAA. “[The Prospects Challenge] was a little more similar to college. In college hockey, guys aren’t always on the same page as much…it’s a little more of a run and gun game. [At the NHL level] the difference is the fact that everyone’s a lot faster, there’s a lot more hitting. Everybody’s in the right place, everybody’s skilled, everybody can shoot, everybody can score, pass, make all the right plays.”
Transitioning to the NHL from the run-and-gun offense of college hockey takes a special group of dedicated individuals. Donato didn’t hesitate to praise the Bruins development staff who helped ease his transition. “It’s awesome…Kim Brandvold, Jamie Langenbrunner, Jay [Leach], all those guys you work with, they’re amazing. They know the game, and study the game…being able to train with those guys, especially Kim this summer it’s awesome, and highly benefitted my game.”
Since development camp, Brandvold’s name cropped up often among the prospects. In addition to bulking up his wiry frame during the offseason, Donato spent many hours working with Brandvold on improving his skating overall. He supplemented his training with friendly competition at the summer Foxboro Pro League alongside former Crimson teammate and current Providence Bruin (AHL) Wiley Sherman.
In a lighthearted moment, Donato joked that 6’7” defenseman Sherman was the roughest competition he faced. “Wiley Sherman is tough.” Donato quipped “I’ve played against him in practice; he isn’t afraid to slash me.”
In the small sample size we’ve seen of Donato, one easily understands the high ceiling Bruins brass envisions for the youngster. However, concerns swirl about Donato’s play in his own end. Questionable defensive play from fellow Massachusetts native Frank Vatrano saw the East Longmeadow native shipped off to the Sunshine State at the trade deadline. Whether Donato follows in his father’s footsteps or Vatrano’s will play out this season and beyond, but it’s safe to say Donato has made it clear he wants to stick around.